Archive for the ‘Ecological Design’ Category

It Pays to Grow Green

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

The old saying “money grows on trees” may not be literally true, but a sustainable landscape comes close. New studies demonstrate that environmentally friendly gardening practices not only can decrease utility and maintenance costs but also increase property value.

Parking Gardens

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Parking lots make great settings for film noirs—I’ll give them that. But they’re bad for the environment. Their extensive paved and impervious surfaces bake in the sun, exacerbating the urban heat island effect. Virtually all the rain that falls on them is funneled into storm sewers, polluting local waterways. And they’re some of the ugliest places on the planet.

Public gardens are leading the way to greener parking lots—parking gardens—with plantings that absorb rain and prevent runoff and solar arrays that produce energy while providing shade. (more…)

Landscape For Life

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

You’ve heard me sing the praises of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), the country’s first rating system for landscapes that make ecological sense. SITES, which provides technical metrics for landscape professionals striving to go green, sets sustainability standards for landscapes the way LEED does for buildings. Landscape For Life, a collaborative project of the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is the new homeowner version of SITES. Landscape For Life makes it possible for anyone to create a sustainable garden. (In the interest of full disclosure: I worked with the USBG and the Wildflower Center to develop the content for the Landscape For Life website and print materials.) Stay tuned, because further enhancements, such as interactive features and a souped-up design, are in the works.

Here’s my “Growing Greener” column on Landscape For Life that appeared in Public Garden magazine, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association, Vol. 25 No. 3. In my “Growing Greener” columns I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff. (more…)

Green Restaurants

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Here’s another one of my “Growing Greener” columns in Public Garden, the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. This one appeared in Vol. 25 No. 2 (2010). In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: I’ve heard that it’s possible to have our restaurant certified “green.” Is this true, and if so, what does it entail?

A: Missouri Botanical Garden’s restaurant Sassafras and Phipps Conservatory’s Café Phipps have joined the ranks of top-rated American restaurants that have been certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), and for good reason. It’s a little known fact that restaurants consume vast amounts of water and energy and generate an astonishing amount of solid waste and pollution each year.

Some statistics to chew on: (more…)

Living Building Challenge

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 25 No. 1 (2010).  Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: What is the Living Building Challenge, and how is it different from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system?

A: By the sound of it, you’d think the goal of the Living Building Challenge—to encourage the creation of “living buildings” that “function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower”—was tailor made for public gardens. Although it grew out of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, it is designed to push the industry—and LEED itself—to a whole new level. In the words of one observer, the Living Building Challenge makes LEED’s incremental system of credits that get tallied up to determine whether a project earns Certified, Silver, Gold, or top Platinum rating “look like something drawn up by Exxon.” (more…)

Are All Green Roofs Created Equal?

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 24 No. 3 (2009). Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: There are so many different green roof systems. Are they all effective?

A: It’s easy for us plant enthusiasts to be seduced by the idea of verdant rooftops. Aesthetically, living roofs are a major improvement over typical asphalt or tar roofs, which are about as hospitable to humans and most other life forms as Death Valley on a mid-summer day. But before falling head over heels for green roofs it’s worth asking whether they really, as touted, help insulate buildings and thus save energy that would otherwise be consumed for heating or cooling, counteract the urban heat island effect, remove particulates from polluted air, detain and cleanse storm water, and more. (more…)

Dickson Despommier Does it Again

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

You gotta give it to Dickson Despommier—he’s certainly persistent. The professor of public health at Columbia University has been pushing the concept of vertical farming in cities for the past several years, and he made his pitch again in Sunday’s New York Times. He even tossed in a few stats on the economics of growing food in urban highrises to counter the arguments of skeptics. You can find my previous takes on vertical agriculture here,  here, and here.

Growing Greener: The Sustainable Sites Initiative

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

The following was published as part of my regular “Growing Greener” column in Public Garden magazine, Vol. 23 No. 3/4 (2008). Public Garden is the flagship publication of the American Public Gardens Association. In “Growing Greener” I answer sustainability-related questions from public garden staff.

Q: What is the Sustainable Sites Initiative, and how can public gardens use it?

A: In the past several years, the LEEDR program of the U.S. Green Building Council has become synonymous with sustainable design. The USGBC awards four levels of LEED certification for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. This rating system has provided targets for public gardens and other institutions striving to go green.

One limitation of LEED, especially for public gardens, is that it currently is concerned primarily with buildings. It’s not surprising, then, that two public gardens, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden, have teamed up with the American Society of Landscape Architects to produce the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the first program to develop guidelines and standards for sustainable landscapes. (more…)

Carbon Consciousness

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

These days, as part of my semi-nomadic life as a program planning and interpretation consultant for public gardens and nature centers, I’ve been offsetting a lot of travel-related carbon emissions. Like this week. I just got back from one of those places that seem to engender periodic bursts of human creativity. Call it karma or happy coincidence, these places suddenly  become magnets for artists, oddballs, and other rebellious types who, through a critical mass of their collective contrarian consciousness, change the course of history. Like Florence in the 15th century, or Baraboo in the 20th century. Baraboo??

Baraboo is a small city in south central Wisconsin with a population of less than 12,000. The surrounding Baraboo Ranges are all that remain of one of the most ancient rock outcrops in North America, composed of Baraboo Quartzite, a metamorphosed form of sandstone that originated about 1.85 billion years ago in what geologists call the Early Proterozoic Eon. The Baraboo area is also the terminal moraine of the Wisconsinan, the place where this final glacier of the last Ice Age dumped its debris, creating impressive sights like Devil’s Lake Gorge, where quartzite blocks crunched up by the ice sheet cling tenuously to steep slopes.

It was in Baraboo in 1884 that the Ringling Brothers began their circus, a band of oddballs if there ever was one. Over six seasons, the circus expanded from a wagon show to a railroad show with 225 employees, touring cities across the United States each summer. Baraboo remained the circus’s headquarters and wintering grounds until 1918.

A few years later, in 1924, Aldo Leopold arrived in nearby Madison, and in the early 1930s he purchased a dilapidated chicken coop and a few hundred acres of Dust Bowl-ravaged land near Baraboo as a weekend retreat for his family. At the shack, as it was called, Leopold was inspired to write conservation classics like A Sand County Almanac, launching the fields of restoration ecology and land ethics. 

The Baraboo Ranges continue to work their magic. A couple of years ago, about a mile down the road from the shack, the Aldo Leopold Foundation built the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. The second highest-rated LEED Platinum facility to date, the Legacy Center also meets the 2030 Challenge, which aims to rapidly transform the U.S. and global building sectors from the biggest single contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed. 

The Legacy Center also happens to be the first carbon-neutral building certified by LEED. The initial carbon budget for the facility was based on projected emissions from combustion (including stationary sources such as wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, vehicles driven by employees to and from and at work, and estimated visitor vehicle use); on-site electricity generation from photovoltaic cells; wind-generated electricity purchased at night and on days when the solar array does not meet building demand; and carbon sequestered by the Foundation’s 500 acres of forested land. You can find out more about how the Center reduces and offsets its carbon emissions here.

The beautiful facility is located on the land where Leopold perished in 1948 while fighting a brush fire on what was then a neighbor’s property.

Regenerative Design Update

Monday, May 18th, 2009

So I’m back in New York, having seen enough redbuds in bloom on our cross-country trek to keep me happy for an entire lifetime. While I was gone, I heard from David Schaller, whose essay “Beyond Sustainability: From Scarcity to Abundance” has been a driving force for regenerative design. He’s now sustainable development administrator for the city of Tucson, and publishes a weekly newsletter called Sustainable Practices.

You know regenerative design is on the fast track when the annual meeting of the ASLA, to be held in Chicago in September, is titled “Beyond Sustainability: Regenerating Places and People.” “We’ve been anticipating public sentiment to turn to the need for sustaining the planet for many years,” wrote ASLA President Angela Dye in an email that arrived in my inbox this morning. “As landscape architects, we must go beyond, and aspire to adopt practices that not only sustain, but regenerate our ecosystems and restore diminishing biohabitats.”